Snap, Crackle, & Pop: Experimental Power Uprates at Boiling Water Reactors (2004)

March 2005

In Snap, Crackle, & Pop: The BWR Power Uprate Experiment, UCS chronicles an experiment under way at boiling water reactors (BWRs) such as the Quad Cities nuclear plant in Illinois. Since Extended Power Uprate was approved in late 2001, the two Quad Cities reactors have experienced numerous unplanned shutdowns to repair equipment that was literally shaking itself apart.

Extended Power Uprate (EPU) allows aging nuclear plants to operate at power levels up to 20 percent higher than the plant's originally licensed level. EPU should stand for Experimental Power Uprate because the first reactors to try EPU literally shook themselves apart. Despite the adverse safety and financial implications, the experiment continues and may be extended to other reactors in other states.

This six-page issue brief cites the words of the Exelon, the owner of Quad Cities, and the NRC explaining that no one knows enough about power uprate conditions to stop the damage. Both parties fail to explain how that lack of knowledge is confined to equipment that shakes itself apart during normal operation and cannot affect the standby emergency equipment needed to protect the public during an accident. If that knowledge isn't gained until after an accident in which the emergency equipment failed, the lesson will carry a high and unnecessary price tag.